The Best Way to Start and Break a Fast
By Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN
Many of us participate in fasts for all sorts of reasons: Religious, ceremonial, or for medical reasons like tests or procedures. Whatever your reason for fasting, there are certainly ways to make it as easy on your body as possible, both before, during and afterward.
When I think of fasting there is one major issue that comes to mind, and that’s extreme hunger, which includes both actual hunger pangs and the anticipation of that hunger, whether or not it materializes. The issue is that both extreme hunger and the thought of extreme hunger can lead to major overconsumption/gorging ourselves with food, both going into, and coming off of your fast. Both can be problematic for digestion, energy, weight management, sleep and more, so use these tips to help on your next fast.
The Healthiest Way to Fast
On the way into the fast:
- Avoid that “last supper” meal: Why? The best aim is to maintain consistency pre- and post-fast when it comes to quantity of food consumed. Even and consistent in our eating is key for maintaining balanced blood sugar, weight management and is also key for maintaining regular bowel movements and energy going into the fast. Plan a one-portion meal and aim to stick to it the night before you begin.
- Get plenty of sleep: Sleep is key for regulating hunger hormones, blood sugar, and for helping us to make good choices and stay on track with our eating. Good sleep is key during both the days leading up to the fast as well as throughout the fast (depending on duration).
- Meditate: Meditation, even in small doses can really help to ease anxiety that can be associated with fasting and a change in our normal schedule. If you’ve never done it before, try starting with 2-5 minutes of quiet, deep breathing.
On the way out of the fast:
- Make a plan: The “break-fast” should be planned out, and don’t wait until you’re ready to eat to plan it. Sticking to a plan can make or break how well you stay on track with your eating post-fast.
- Drink plenty of water: Water shouldn’t be underestimated when it comes to the power of helping us stay on track. Water is helpful when it comes to helping us stay satiated and it’s also important for keeping blood sugar stable (another key part of weight and energy maintenance). Aim for about 8, 8 oz glasses daily (64 oz or 2L).
- Ease out: Although it’s temping to dive right back into eating, it’s key to have a plan to ease back into consuming solid food. This can mean a small meal (remember, one that you planned beforehand) or one that may be juice, or plant-based, depending on this type and duration of the fast. Regardless, be mindful to take it slowly and avoid diving right back into a large meal. Taking it slowly can help promote weight management, energy, more restful sleep (eating a large meal and then going to bed isn’t a good idea) and better consistency overall.
- Know the difference between physical hunger versus emotional hunger: On the way out of a fast, emotional hunger can get the best of us, leading us to eat out of the want for food instead of out of the need for food. This can be a tough one to identify, so close your eyes, take a deep breath, have some water and think about whether you’re actually hungry or just feeling cravings.